Today, Michael and Spencer are discussing Green Arrow 19, originally released March 15th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Michael: Putting aside your differences and working together towards a common goal is such a simple idea to grasp, but not always as easy to enact. As human beings, we are complicated and fragile things and easily allow our emotions to stand in the way of progress. Sometimes it helps to have a third party tell us to get our heads out of our asses and just do the work.
Green Arrow 19 is the second part of “The Return of Roy Harper,” establishing Benjamin Percy’s Rebirth backstory for the former Speedy as well as propelling the present day narrative forward. Roy lets out some pent-up aggression on Oliver before Dinah helps calm him down and realize that they’re here to help. Our heroes have come to protect the Cascade Pipeline protesters at “The Rez” from The Wild Dogs militia.
The majority of the present day drama is Green Arrow, Arsenal, and Black Canary on the defense — once Roy puts aside his differences with Ollie and his brother Bird, that is. In the flashbacks, the issue deals with how the former friends got to that point. Also a new (?) version of Count Vertigo shows up to battle Green Arrow and Speedy.
There’s something about Roy Harper that has always appealed to me. Practically all heroes — super or otherwise — fail and are forced to dust themselves off and try again. Roy Harper didn’t just get fired from sidekick duty or let the bad guy get the upper hand, though, he fell into a downward spiral of addiction and the nightmares that come with it. Roy’s a hero who has hit a rock bottom that most other superheroes haven’t and rebounded from it — in the old continuity, he eventually became a loving father and a member of the Justice League. I like Roy Harper because of that tremendous rebound and how he managed to become his own hero in a way that wasn’t exactly the same as Robin becoming Nightwing.
I’m still processing Benjamin Percy’s revised origin for Roy in Green Arrow 19 and I kind of feel like a monster for thinking that Roy’s rock bottom wasn’t rock bottom enough. The straw that breaks the camel’s back between the Green Arrow/Speedy team is Oliver returning home to find that Roy threw a huge party while he was gone. Let’s be honest, Roy isn’t the first teenager to get his hands on some booze and party hard while the folks are gone.
More importantly, from what we’ve seen thus far in their relationship, I’m not prone to believe that Oliver would kick Roy to the curb like that with no provocation. Who knows, maybe there’s more flashbacks to come that will fill in the gaps and color those memories from a different perspective. I’ll give credit to artists Eleonara Carlini and Mirka Andolfo for inserting panels of Roy sneaking drinks while Ollie wasn’t looking both in this issue and Green Arrow 18. Credit also to Percy for maintaining Roy’s foster home on a Native American reservation — a point of classic continuity I only just learned about.
I don’t want to focus too much on continuity comparisons but this makes me wonder what makes the Green Arrow/Speedy split different “then” and now. Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams had Oliver kick out Speedy when he discovered that he was doing heroin. Percy, Carlini, and Andolfo have Oliver kick out Speedy and THEN he turns to drugs.
Both instances have former partners end up in the same spot but the emotional journeys might be a little different. How must it have felt for Roy to learn that he (likely) killed his father with an arrow while he was blackout drunk? How do you think Oliver felt when he realized that his insensitivity and unwillingness to help led Roy to a heroin den?
Probably one of the most potent visuals from Carlini and Andolfo is that sequence where we do see Roy shooting up in that dingy place. The heroin den flashbacks are intercut with the construction of the pipeline in the present day. As Roy is plunging a needle full of poison into his arm, the fixtures of the pipeline are locking into place, ready to deliver another “poison.” It’s not the most subtle imagery but it’s effective.
I love that Green Arrow is a political book. And while we have a comic book recreation of The Dakota Access Pipeline conflict, the moment that really struck a chord from me came from something Black Canary said.
Dinah wants Roy and Oliver to shove their past problems up their asses and work together on the problem in front of them. She might has well be talking to the majority of Americans who oppose the current President of the United States. I saw a phrase on Twitter: “Liberals fighting with liberals about not being liberal enough.” When the stakes are too high and the opposition is too dangerous you need to stop focusing on the petty stuff and take on the immediate problem you all face.
Roy says “Just because he grew a goatee doesn’t mean he’s changed” — which I like to read as Percy poking fun at himself and the idea of Green Arrow under DC Rebirth. But Oliver shows that he has changed and that he understands the philosophy that Dinah is trying to teach Roy. He shows a great level of humility and respect to Roy and his family. Queen Industries might be the corporate villain behind all of this but Oliver knows that this is not his fight — its Roy’s. He asks to fight with Roy, to fight FOR Roy, which proves that he’s not the same airhead he once was.
Spencer how do you like Roy’s Rebirth thus far? Do you think they rushed the “break-up” of this arc a little? What’s up with that Count Vertigo? Do you think that Percy’s picking and choosing what he liked from Jeff Lemire’s New 52 run? Is that really any different from how comics’ continuity has ever operated?
Spencer: It’s definitely how “Rebirth” has been handling continuity, if nothing else, and it’s interesting to see that the results are actually rather similar to the beginning of the New 52’s rebooted continuity: Batman and Green Lantern are largely unaffected while the other franchises are slowly rebuilding their pasts, picking and choosing which bits of continuity they’ll keep and which they’ll discard. As much as I enjoyed Lemire’s run (and I’m glad Emiko is still around), New 52 Green Arrow never had a consistent take or much of a trajectory, so if Percy has to drop a few minor retcons to build up the history of his Oliver Queen growing from a selfish playboy to a legitimate warrior for justice, I’m okay with that.
Anyway Michael, I’m not sure if the break-up itself is rushed. We don’t know how much time is passing between flashbacks, and Ollie and Roy’s relationship, as presented in this issue, was unsustainable from the start — I’m not at all surprised that it imploded sooner rather than later. Michael’s not wrong that Roy’s party is a weak reason to be kicked out, but we’re clearly supposed to believe that Oliver’s in the wrong for kicking him out over it, and especially for the remarkably cruel words he uses in doing so. Even in his kinder moments, the Ollie of the past was grossly unfit to be a parent/guardian. His taking in Roy last issue was more of a fun whim than a thought-out commitment, and he constantly undermines Roy throughout this issue’s flashbacks, berating his high-tech trick arrows and condescending to him when Roy put forth his (correct) theory about Count Vertigo’s powers. Ollie also flaunts his adult vices in front of Roy (setting a bad example), and even leaves him alone for weeks at a time to fend for himself.
Is it really any wonder Roy got into trouble? While it’s possible these flashbacks may be a bit colored by Roy’s emotions, I honestly wouldn’t be surprised at all if they were the complete, unfiltered truth — Oliver certainly doesn’t deny any of it. Michael, I find your point about the differences in when Roy became addicted to drugs interesting, but I don’t know if makes that much of a difference in his development. The original “My ward’s a junkie?!” story found Roy turning to drugs because Ollie wasn’t there for him (he was out gallivanting with Hal Jordan in space), and you can really say the same about this version of history as well.
This is the moment that sent Roy into his downward spiral, but could it also be the moment that helped make Ollie into the hero he is today? I mentioned earlier that, via flashbacks, Percy’s taken Oliver from a selfish playboy to a legitimate warrior for justice, but what we’re missing is an inciting incident, the reason why and how that happened; he was still a jerk after the shipwreck (in Speedy’s time), and had already largely turned around his ways before losing his fortune (the beginning of this series). Seeing the damage he’s done to Roy is very likely the moment of self-reflection missing from this formula.
As good as that is for Ollie, though, it doesn’t make anything better for Roy. His resentment is earned despite the fact that Ollie has legitimately changed his ways. With that in mind, I feel like Oliver’s handling his apology about as well as he possibly could (and you can see his understanding and approach improve throughout the issue): he’s owning his mistakes, giving Roy space and ways to process things (in his own macho way), and eventually deferring to him when it comes to the mission. Oddly enough, this may be an area where Roy can actually learn from Ollie.
Bird’s got just as much resentment for Roy as Roy does Ollie, and while it was born out of childhood jealously, the death of their father gives him a rather legitimate foundation for a grudge. Roy’s being a bit obstinate in response, though, and not owning up to even the possibility of his part in it. Like I said, this is an area where Roy could learn from Ollie, and I’m curious to see if these two grudges will continue to mirror each other as the arc continues.
Of course, there’s always the chance that Bird will never forgive Roy, but that doesn’t make his coming to his aid wrong. Ollie and Roy both have personal reasons for defending the Rez’ (It’s Roy’s former home; Oliver’s former company is behind the pipeline), but they have a bit of a broader responsibility as well. Early in the issue Bird accuses them of being white saviors, but later admits that “some masked bastard tourists rigged the game, only you masked bastard tourists can un-rig it.” Ollie and Roy aren’t responsible for the Wild Dogs’ actions, but they have a similar level of privilege and ability, and thus, a responsibility to do something about them. This issue, in a subtle way, is a wonderful blueprint on how to put one’s white privilege to good use: admit your complicity, help where you can, and defer to those who know more than you whenever possible.
That’s good advice for a lot of situations, really.
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